Mushy gets the skinny from Effects Supervisor Mike Elizalde on how they brought The Thing to the big screen

MovieWeb recently was invited to visit Spectral Motion in Glendale to get a hands on impression of how they have created the creature FX for among other films Hellboy, Fantastic Four and the forthcoming X-Men 3. Greeted by many life-sized creature renderings as I made my way through their lobby, I was soon led up to Mike Elizalde, the President/CEO of Spectral Motion and the makeup effects supervisor on the Fantastic Four. He was the person who brokedown for me how they made Michael Chiklis become the Thing on the big screen.

First off, Elizalde said that before any latex is applied everything begins with 2-D illustrations. “After those are approved... they are then combined into one.” He states. After this process of trial and error, they then take the final illustration and it is based on that that the character/creature starts to be created. The second stage in the process has them making a model of the illustration. “This lets us know what we can and can’t do on a human being.” For instance, with the Thing they started with an actual model of Michael Chiklis as a normal personal “and then we build out.” Once this idea has been agreed upon for how the actor will look once he has been “made up,” the third stage sees Elizalde and his team creating a series of “lifecasts.” They essentially take “impressions” of the actor’s entire body and from there “positives are generated” by which the sculptors can begin to sculpt how the character is going to look. The fourth stage involves “molding” these impressions, then they are taken to the Foam Department (stage #5) and the sixth and final stage sees them being handed over to the Paint Department.

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Due to the fact that the Thing is anything but immobile, I had to ask if these intricately designed suits were damaged during the rigors of the filmmaking process. Elizalde explained that “the suit held up really well and we only had 5 suits for Michael Chiklis and then another 4 suits for the stunt people.” He even went on to say that because of the physical aspects of wearing the Thing suit, this “informed Michael’s portrayal of the character. He really used it” in how he expressed the emotional states of the Thing, “especially in his walk.” According to Elizalde, Chiklis described the temperature inside the suit as “middle of summer, Sahara hot.” Using a “heating system similar to what race car drivers wear” underneath the suit Chiklis wore a “capillary system that pumps cool water around the body.” This water is constantly replenishing itself but the only problem was that Chiklis wasn’t able to be plugged into the machine that activated the system when he was “on camera.”

Elizalde went on to say that the Thing suit was designed out of “a latex based material” by Roland Blancaflor. The actual material that Blancaflor designs is actually a secret that he “never divulges... he doesn’t even give it a name,” Elizalde insists. He even spoke a little bit about the Dr. Doom suit which was “similar to the Thing suit” and designed by Jose Fernandez. Elizalde then explained to me that the first test with the Thing suit took about four and a half hours to apply to “Michael’s body... once we did it a few more times and hit our stride it took about two hours each time.” He went on to say that the suit is “applied in several pieces” especially on the face “because we need to see all the facial moves on the screen.” Michael Chiklis also had dentures applied for the Thing’s teeth that “he practiced using by reading his kids bedtime stories.” Amazingly, “All the movement on screen was Michael. Everything he did was self-contained.”

After being allowed to see how the magic is created and getting what seemed like a solid crash course in “Makeup Basics 101,” I had to ask Elizalde when he knows, or when his team knows that they have achieved the perfect look or effect for a given movie? “When the audience sees it.” He replied simply. He then went on to say that Spectral Motion is currently working on a top secret project and unfortunately he wasn’t able to comment on it. They are also currently working on X-Men 3 and more specifically, the characters of Beast, Mystique and Juggernaut in that movie.

Fantastic Four hits DVD stores on December 6th, 2005.

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Evan Jacobs at Movieweb
Evan Jacobs